My eldest daughter is the embodiment of independence.
The only period of her life that I ever saw her unhappy or complain was her first year of life.
She did not like being bathed.
She did not like getting dressed.
She did not like having her diaper changed.
She did not like napping.
She did not like going to bed.
She did not like being held.
She did not like cuddling.
She did not like baby food.
She did not like being a baby. Plain and simple.
At the time, I thought she was just colicky. But, in hindsight, I think it was just who she was.
She wanted to be free.
When she was about 4 years old, one of the little girls in her preschool class invited her to her birthday party. It was the first birthday invite since she had started at this particular preschool. When I told her that she was invited, she said, “No, thank you.” I was sure that she misunderstood me, so I said, “But there will be cake, ice cream, and goodie bags.” She said, “No, thank you.” I asked, “Why not?” She then told me that this particular girl had been mean to her on the first day of school and had pushed her out of the lunch line. So, she didn’t want to go to her party. And that was that.
At the age of 6, a bunch of her friends were taking a drama class for the summer. I asked her if she would like to take it with them. She simply said, “No.” When I asked her why? She said she didn’t want to. I was concerned that maybe she didn’t understand what I was saying, so I explained that the kids would be putting on a play. She loved plays and always liked going to them. She looked at me and said, “Yes. I like the part where you sit in the seat and eat popcorn and watch the play.” And that was that.
At the age of 8, she went to sleep-away summer camp for the first time. It was a two-week camp, where they meet at a location and take a chartered bus to a camp a few hours away. When we arrived for check-in, she looked around and saw all the kids clinging to their parents. Some looked terrified. Some were crying and begging their parents not to leave them. Some didn’t even want to get on the bus. Then there was my daughter. She said, “You don’t need to wait until the bus leaves... and please don’t cry.” She climbed on the bus. And that was that.
My heart broke a little. Why didn’t my kid want me to watch and wave as the bus pulled away? Why wasn’t she nervous about going away for two weeks? Why did all the other kids hang onto their parents for dear life but mine couldn’t wait until I left?
The answer is that she’s not like me. I was a super “clingy” kid. I hated summer camp and being away from home. I wanted to be with my mother 24/7. I wanted to follow her everywhere and never leave her side. Apparently, “clingy” skips a generation. All of my fears about giving birth to "clingy" children (like me) was an unnecessary expenditure of energy. My kids loved sleepovers, sleep away camp, traveling and going places. That said, couldn’t she fake it a little?
While she was away, I wrote her letters almost every day and sent her care packages. I never got a letter back. My other friends would brag that their kids sent home long letters with every detail of their counselors, their bunkmates, the food and the activities.
When I picked her up, two weeks later, she said she had had the best time of her life and next time wanted to go for a whole month. She loved being away from home. She loved being with other kids. She loved all of it. I asked her why she didn’t write me a letter? She said, “There was no time. I was having too much fun.”
The following year I created form letters and self-addressed stamped envelopes. They said something like this:
I am (circle one):
Fine. Great. Hanging in there.
Camp is (circle one):
Awesome. Boring. Just ok.
I (circle one):
Miss you. Miss the cat. Never want to leave camp.
My counselors are (circle one):
The best. Just ok. Really mean.
The food is (circle one):
Great. Just ok. Terrible.
Love, Your Daughter
She didn’t even want to fill those out. But apparently, those “form letters” were the talk of the camp amongst the counselors. They loved them so much, they filled one out for her and sent it back to me.
Now my daughter is 23 years old and is currently on a nine-month backpacking adventure. She and one of her friends are spending a few months in Southeast Asia and then a few more months traveling throughout Europe. She has been planning (and saving) for this trip for two years. It’s on her “bucket list.” When I was her age, I had just started my career in television. I was working as an assistant for two producers, and I was determined to climb the ladder and find my place in the food chain. I wasn’t sure (then) if I wanted to be a writer, producer or an executive, but I knew I wanted to be something important. I wanted to have success. I wanted it all.
My “bucket list” back then looked something like this:
- Have a career
- Get married
- Have kids
- Own a home
Travel and adventure were not on that list. My focus was on finding purpose and validation. Thirty years later, even as a woman who has been married twice, had three children and reached a modicum of success as a television executive, I still wake up wanting exactly the same thing: purpose and validation.
If I had a “bucket list” for these past few years, I think it would have been:
- To be my own boss
- Do something that I love for work
- Live a more balanced life
All things I’ve found in since I’ve started writing 52 Mondays. My daughter, on the other hand, has already figured out what took me 50+ years to learn: Do what you love. Live a balanced life. Enjoy your life.
As I watched my daughter get ready to start an adventure that she had dreamed about for years, I couldn’t help but think her itinerary is skeletal at best and her budget is frightfully lean. They are mostly staying in youth hostels, their entire adult lives packed into enormous backpacks, and just figuring it out as they go. This is so foreign to me (the planner, the homebody, the lover of creature comforts), I don’t know how to advise her. But my daughter doesn’t need my advice... because my daughter is so different than me. She is independent. She loves to travel. She loves adventure.
But it’s not her sense of adventure that inspires me. It is a lifetime of marching to her own drummer. It is a sense of self that keeps her from doing things she doesn’t want to do. She is content. She is peaceful. She avoids drama and she has a ton of friends.
I love her sense of calm. I love her self-direction. I love that she knows what she likes and knows what she doesn’t. I love that she doesn’t need to go to birthday parties of girls who weren’t nice to her. I love that she didn’t need to go to sleep-away camp with a bunch of old friends because she knew that she would make new ones. I love that she is a great cook. I love that she is a loyal friend. I love that she has a good work ethic. I love that she is a good saver. I love that she has no interest in climbing a corporate ladder and is not driven by money. She is driven by good friends, good food, good music and a comfortable bed to get a good night’s sleep in.
I have a lot to learn from her... and I love her even if she still doesn’t write me letters from abroad. (Although now she uses various apps to send me photos and messages when Wifi is available. So, at least, we’ve come a long way since summer camp.)
Recently, I came across a quote that I thought exemplified my version of a “bucket list,” but I think it might actually apply to both of us:
My goal is to build a life that I don’t need a vacation from.
- Rob Hill, Sr.
What is on your "bucket list"?